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May 21, 2019

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Age-old way of building best method for renewal

Crouching in a narrow space, Yang Long fills a hole on a run-down wall with bits of earth. It is not an ordinary wall, but the Great Wall in northwest China’s Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region.

Leading a repair team, the 40-year-old will spend around one year restoring an 800-meter-long section.

Ningxia is dubbed the “museum of the Great Wall.”

Research shows that there were 1,507 kilometers of the Great Wall in Ningxia, of which 506 kilometers remain.

Builders used rammed earth here, and as a result it has been damaged by the climate and human activity over the past hundreds of years.

Fortunately, the region has stepped up efforts to repair and maintain it.

To restore the ancient wall without changing its original state, Yang and his team conducted repeated experiments on the structure, materials and layers.

They finally found the best restoration method.

“We did 65 experiments in nine months and found the best formula of building materials and construction methods,” said Yu Xia, a technician in charge of the Great Wall maintenance project.

“I really admire the wisdom of the ancient people,” Yu said.

In the past, workers tamped down the earth many times and added gravel and needlegrass to reinforce the structure.

“The whole process was like communicating with the builders of the ancient Great Wall,” Yu said.

To simulate the construction process of the ancient Great Wall to the maximum extent, large machinery, chemical products and additives are not allowed.

Yang and the workers can only use iron or wooden hammers to tamp earth, and they must fill the holes on the wall by hand.

Yang, who previously repaired ancient temples, said he felt stressed when he first started.

“I was utterly exhausted tamping earth day by day, again and again,” he said.

The restoration of beacon towers and forts is even more difficult.

Workers need to make casts, tamp earth and maintain the structures.

Filling a hole on a tower wall takes three people one day, and repairing the side of a tower takes 50 workers half a year.

“We found signs of restoration on the Great Wall in different periods and we hope our efforts could also be discovered by future generations,” Yu said.


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